This article was updated April 2022.
We rely on tech – but what happens when it stops working?
Electronics have improved our standard of living in leaps and bounds these last few decades. Mobile phones make it easy to stay in touch, computers keep our industries working efficiently, and cameras capture all those unmissable day-to-day moments. But there’s a dark side to electronics that begins once a gadget or gizmo is no longer useful: the growing amount of e-Waste we produce.
With World Earth Day landing on April 22, there’s no better time to start thinking about the steps we can take to reduce the amount of e-Waste we create and learn how to recycle old devices in a way that will make Mother Earth proud.
The term is a little ambiguous in definition. It’s applied loosely to electronic equipment that has reached the end of its useful life – so basically, anything with a battery or power supply. It’s commonly associated with computer and mobile technology, though it could also apply to anything from common household appliances to toys.
e-Waste contains materials that are potentially harmful to the environment and human health if they are not disposed of correctly, like Mercury, lead, and beryllium. Proper recycling keeps these toxic materials out of our air, soil, and water.
The unfortunate problem is that we’re not recycling it properly. At least, not yet. According to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the world created a record 53.6 million tonnes of e-Waste in 2019 and the fate of a staggering 82.6% is unknown. Home in Australia, the Federal Government has recently pledged to recover 80% of all waste by 2030.
The good news is that e-Waste is very recyclable. Many phones, computers, and tablets contain precious resources, including gold, steel, and platinum, which can be recovered and remade into new products. In fact, when recycled properly, up to 95% of e-Waste components can be reused and made into something new. This means less materials in landfill, less pressure on the environment, and more innovation for industries.
The best place to start is by choosing good, long-lasting products that you can repair.
Ask do I actually need this?: Novelty comes at a price. Be mindful of whether a purchase is a necessity or if it’s something you could ultimately do without. Another idea is to buy something secondhand rather than new.
Think before you buy: Unfortunately, the nature of some electronic devices is that they will only last a few years before failing. When you’re purchasing a new piece of tech, make sure to do your research:
Repair before you replace: First, check if your product is under warranty as it could mean free-of-charge repairs if the damage wasn’t a result of an accident. The next best course of action would be to find a trained technician in your area who can provide a repair warranty.
If you’re confident in your DIY abilities, iFixit has a number of easy-to-follow repair guides and videos. Safety is important here, so tread carefully if you are new to the world of tech repair.
Don’t hoard your outdated electronics: On average, Australians update their phones ever 2.5 years and, instead of recycling, we tend to hang on to them. In fact, it’s estimated that there are 23.5 million old mobiles in Australia, which means a lot of valuable materials and components that we go to extraordinary lengths to mine and source from around the world are gathering dust in a desk drawer.
If your mobile is still working, then consider extending its life by either selling it online or passing it on to friends and family. If it no longer works and is no longer wanted, then it is time to recycle it. It is estimated that we are holding onto five million old phones that are broken and no longer working.
MobileMuster is the easiest way to recycle your old device, plus their batteries, chargers, and accessories. There are over 3,500 drop-off points around Australia, including all major mobile phone retailers. You can find your nearest MobileMuster drop point here.
Alternatively, visit their website and request a mailing satchel – or pick one up at your local AusPost – to send back your old mobiles and accessories, free of charge.
Under the government’s National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme, companies that make and/or import over a certain number of televisions and computers into Australia are required to pay for the end-of-life recycling of these products.
TechCollect and eCycle Solutions are two organisations that recycle TVs and computers for free under the scheme. Visit their websites to find your nearest drop-off location.
Drop your used laser or inkjet cartridges and toner bottles at all Officeworks stores and participating Australia Post, Cartridge World, Harvey Norman, The Good Guys, JB Hi-Fi, and Office National outlets.
Aldi supermarkets offer a free battery recycling service at all their Australian stores, suitable for any brand of AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V batteries (both rechargeable and non-rechargeable). Selected Battery World and Officeworks stores also provide battery recycling, though we recommend calling ahead to ensure they have the service.
You can also check with your local council as many libraries and civic centres offer dedicated battery recycle bins.
You can BYO modem on most iiNet home internet plans (it will even save you some money when signing up). If it’s broken beyond troubleshooting, you can take your old modem to our friends at Vodafone who will recycle the device through Mobile Muster. You don’t need to be a Vodafone customer to use this service.
Planet Ark has a great tool for finding a recycler for almost anything! Just head to their website and select what you are looking to recycle, from Aerosol Cans to X-Ray Films.
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